The Niwot volleyball team is ranked No. 2 in Class 4A by the CHSAANow.com poll. The only team that has defeated the Cougars (12-1, 9-0 Northern) is No. 1-ranked powerhouse Lewis-Palmer. With the home stretch of the season coming up, the Cougars are looking like one of a select few clubs that could challenge the defending champs for the 4A title.
I caught up with first-year Cougars head coach Daisha Agho to get her take on how things are going for her team in 2017 and what could be next for the Cougars.
This Niwot program has been on a pretty good run of late, making the Class 4A state tournament in two of the past three seasons. This is your first year with the team and the Cougars look to be rolling right along on their way back to the postseason. What are your thoughts on the season so far?
I knew coming in that the team was already strong and wanted to continue that tradition of competing in a playoff scenario. That was one of my goals when I got here. For the most part, I owe the smooth transition to the girls. This group of juniors and seniors is phenomenal. They're not just good athletes, they're great girls too.
They have great chemistry and leadership. When I got here, I didn't have to sit down with the girls and talk about what it means to lead on and off the court. They have a natural ability to do that and also the acceptance of me on their part has been great. We've changed up a few things and they've been really receptive to my coaching style so far.
The area in which you play has always been home to some of the top teams in the state, most relevantly Northern League rivals Longmont and Silver Creek. Your team is 3-0 against those two teams already this season. What has led to your club claiming the mantle as the top team in the Longmont area?
It's a mentality. I talked to the girls at the very beginning of the season and told them that, yes, they have a really talented group but where do they want to be mentally? We also want to be confident, but not cocky. We talked about the teams that have won state like Lewis-Palmer. They walk around state and they just look confident and comfortable and focused.
We have some really good teams in our conference and our area that are also always in the state caliber conversation as well. When we play them, we know that every ball isn't going to drop our way every time and that there will be tough moments. But we're able to move on from those because of our confidence.
When you arrived at Niwot, you inherited a top-caliber senior and a Division-I commit in Makenzie Fidelak. What has it been like to coach the Stanford commit? And what has she brought to the table this season apart from her obvious ability on the court?
Being able to come in and coach an athlete like her has been great just because of her demeanor and her attitude. If you talk to the kid, you'd never know that she's going to play D-I volleyball. She's so humble and so polite, she's always the first one to say please and thank you. She's also very popular and respected within the school as well. We introduce her on volleyball nights and the crowd goes nuts.
She's definitely an example for the younger girls as well with her dedication to the sport and her effort on and off the court. I'm definitely lucky to have her and I'm bummed that I only get her for one year.
While Fidelak gets a lot of attention, it takes a lot of solid players to get a team to where yours is now. Who are some of the other girls who have contributed to the Cougars' success this season?
I've talked a lot to other coaches. One thought that suck with me is that whenever you make a film, for example, you always have a star of the show. But you also have to have supporting roles or it doesn't work. We have people like Emma Falk in the front row and Zoe Gonzalez, who also doesn't get as much recognition because her main responsibility is to come in and block and blocking isn't something usually gets highlighted.
When Mak isn't having a good night, she can still draw a lot of attention and she knows that. But other girls have to make plays for us to be successful. Especially when Mak is getting doubled, Audrey Richard is our outlet and whenever we can get the ball outside to her and she has a single block, she's going to put that ball down. Madison Schoeder is a transfer who I finally got to put in for a full two sets last night. I could go down our roster and every girl has contributed to our season in one way or another and that is a major strength of ours.
The way you guys have played coming to the home stretch, and having only lost to No. 1 Lewis-Palmer, it looks like you could be poised to check of a number of major accomplishments this season. What has been the goal this season and has it changed at all as the Cougars have navigated their schedule in 2017?
I'm not a statistics person and I feel like success can be measured in different ways. We have to meet our individual practice goals and our goals for each match, and that has been our focus all season long. But if you're looking at the big picture, of course we'd like to reach the state tournament and see how far we can go.
I was at the state tournament when I was coaching Berthoud last season and I saw the disappointment in the Niwot girls' faces after they lost last year. Hopefully, we can avoid that this season. If we're going to make a run at it, I think this is a good year for us to do it.